Color, 1983, 108 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Jorge Grau
Starring Assumpta Serna, Víctor Valverde, Luis Hostalot, Montserrat Salvador, Paloma Lorena, Sahli Mimoun Amar El, Jose Antonio Garcia Romeu, Manuel Rodríguez, Alejandro Hernández
Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)

Still Queens of Evilbest known to horror fans for his Queens of Evilclassic The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and his stylish spin on the Countess Bathory legend, Blood Ceremony, the late Spanish writer-director Jorge Grau dabbled in numerous other genres over the course of his career including a handful of crime thrillers like the misleadingly titled Violent Blood Bath. Made in the later stretch of his career, Coto de caza, or Hunting Ground, takes aim at the legal system and takes a unique, gritty stab at the vigilante subgenre while providing the nastiest Christmas viewing option this side of Night Train Murders.

Criminal defense attorney Adela (Serna) has earned the ire of both her colleagues and some of her family for her impassioned arguments for clemency even in extreme charges like murder, feeling that poverty and social injustice in Madrid can be blamed more than human nature. While arguing the case of a robbery suspect whom she feels killed out of desperation, she catches the attention of two lowlife brothers, Chato (Amar) and Mauri (Hostalot), who later swipe her keys and her car while she's grocery shopping. Their joyride includes robbing a man at knife point and picking up their equally scuzzy friend, Travolta (Romeu), who strips the cassette deck from her car while sampling some of her beloved Wagner music. Rather than calling the cops like any rational person, she heads home for some quality time with her husband (Valverde) and two kids, not to mention their new Queens of EvilVCR. Meanwhile the thugs head back to round up another of Queens of Eviltheir gang, epileptic Juani (Rodríguez), and beat up the garage owner who just fired him. To let off steam they decide to crash the weekend villa owned by Adela and her family, who have unfortunately decided to go there as well so the young son, David, can learn how to hunt with a rifle. Things escalate horrifically and lead to a fatality, which puts Adela's convictions to the test both in everyday life and in the courtroom when justice doesn't come close to being properly served. Unfortunately that's just the beginning of her nightmare as an even more violent threat turns out to be waiting in the wings...

At least for the first hour, Hunting Ground could be seen as a gritty social drama with earthy exploitation elements like the films being made around the same time by Eloy de la Iglesia. However, it descends into some very dark territory in the final stretch with a home invasion finale that's still extremely shocking. A fine thespian best known to international audiences for her starring role in Pedro Almodóvar's Matador three years later, Serna proves once again she's willing to go places most actors wouldn't even go near with a complex character that tweaks both sides of the political aisle. The few English-speaking viewers familiar with this film tend to categorize it as a sort of Spanish variant on Last House on the Left Queens of Evilor Straw Dogs, though that sets up expectations the film doesn't even try to really deliver until that jaw-dropping final fifteen minutes. Brace yourself; this one's a steady Queens of Evilbuild but it pays off in ways you'll never forget if you're a fan of transgressive cinema.

A mainstay of the video gray market for years thanks to a cropped, English-dubbed Greek VHS release, Hunting Ground finally got an official release from Mondo Macabro on Blu-ray in 2021 with the usual 1,200-unit limited red case edition featuring a reversible sleeve with artwork by Justin Coffee and a 20-page booklet with liner notes by Spanish film expert Ismael Fernandez. The transfer is advertised as a new 4K scan of the camera negative, and it looks great given that the film has a very earthy, subdued look throughout with some grain-heavy darker scenes. The detail increase here makes this a far more enjoyable watch than before and also makes the finale even more uncomfortable, with the 1.66:1 framing and increased clarity also... uh, clarifying some things that amp up the sleaze value quite a bit. The original Spanish track and the English dub (which confusingly mashes together British and American accents for the actors) are both included, with optional English-translated subtitles (written by someone with a phobia of using periods). The one big extra here is a video interview with Grau (49m24s), which spans his entire career from his early plans to be a toreador through his early films like Summer Night and the genre-defining work that cemented his legacy along with lesser seen ones like Chicas de Club. The familiar Mondo Macabro promo reel is also included.

Reviewed on March 10, 2021.